Snow and mist

I follow many blogs.  A favourite is posted by a bloke called Jason who translates Spanish poetry and paints.  One thing I have copied is his use of the long vertical format for his images.  He achieves intense colours and a rich light that I find I cannot emulate.

Last week in the Yorkshire Dales, I found a simple subject: the snow had built in the lee of the dry stone walls on the distant fell across the valley.  Mist cloaked the heights.  In the foreground, islands of richly coloured coarse grass stood out against the snow.


After painting this, it dawned on me that the curling lines made by the walls were following the landscape.  This karst slope comprises  shelfs and drops made as hidden water eroded the rock from beneath.  I tried a quick sketch.

Buckden Out Moor looking west (24)

Jason paints “directly from nature with my arse in the mud and my hands getting cold“.  This too is how I like to paint.  Except I worked standing, drawing into paper dampened with snow, with water soluble graphite and an inktense black crayon.

Fishers – homage to JB (I)

Fishers Homage to JB (6)

I was in Edinburgh last month to give a talk on Merkel cell cancer.  While there I wandered into the Scottish National Gallery and the exhibition of the paintings of John  Bellany.  The body of work is overwhelming.  Huge canvases, many made of several joined panels.  As a student he made ends meet gutting fish in the industrial fisheries.  The imagery of working men and dismembered fish becomes a theme throughout his work.   In Kinlochbervie, though we see only 10, there is a strong evocation of the Last Supper.  In Allegory this link of the fishery to Christian mythology is even stronger with three haddock carcases of nailed up in the foreground and the boat masts and crowds behind like soldiers with their spears. There is nothing new in the fish-messiah metaphor dating from the acronym ICTHUS as code for a persecuted religion and the frequent use of fish in gospel stories.  Here Bellany re-uses this metaphor in a gritty industrial setting.  Bethel and The Obsession follow a shared structure with strange tube-like men set upon a stage against sea and sky.  Something in these latter paintings was reminiscent of photographs I have seen of great sculpted people  set looking out to sea on Easter Island.

This is the beginning of an idea: developing the sketches of cormorants to a full painting of the birds standing tall and lined up at the water’s margin, like icons or idols, carved monuments as much as living birds.  Here then are the first sketches.

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This is a collation of the field sketches (most posted before) from which I am working.  Snow is limiting access to do more this weekend.

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Finally, all credit to the BBC for systematically making the nation’s art available on line.  That license – worth every penny.

Why so long between posts?

Mainly because I’m using my work laptop which does not have the distraction of my blog or paintings on it.


I am avoiding distractions while I labour over writing a paper, among other things. I now have marvellous software that allows me to view the most minute detail of photographed sections through tissue specimens, coloured to identify cells by their function. These appear to be works of art in themselves. I cannot post photographs of the sections here but perhaps in time I will base a set of watercolours on the plains and deltas and forests of the micrographic world I have been glimpsed.

I found some sketches

This evening I am starting work on a new piece, a planned painting, probably in acrylic, larger than my usual fast drawings, pulling together recent plein air sketches and ideas borrowed from “real” artists.


As I collated my material, I found some sketches not previously posted. Here is a rock formation eroding in the tidal plain in Tyninghame on the Firth or Forth, the salt marsh at Frampton on England’s east coast, the rolling hills of the southern Pennines painted sitting on my bike on the Tissington Trail. I also include a preliminary sketch for a subsequent studio painting of the Yorkshire Dales, posted previously.





By the way – I have reposted this from earlier this evening – minor editing led to all sorts of formatting problems.


The small river Blythe has burst its banks and flooded its flanking meadows, rushing under and around the old packhorse bridge. The water was high in the Marsh Lane reserve, swamping the small islands which usually host roosting waterfowl.

I painted this last of all, as the light faded, by the end in near darkness in the hide.  On someone’s blog recently (forgive me for not remembering whose) I liked the texture of conte crayon under watercolour and tried this here.

Railway bridge in fading light

Before that I had sketched birds for about an hour.  Most prominent were cormorants perched  on what was left of an island, surrounded by wigeon making an eery piping sound in the gathering dusk.

I tried to focus on simple gestural brush strokes, capturing the bulk of the neck and shoulders as they stretched and preened.  I mixed a neutral of ultramarine and variously burnt umber or burnt sienna (note that the scanner has rather accentuated the component pigments).  I could not resist going back and drawing into the paint but should have known better.  In the damp air, dry time was prolonged.  My careful strokes oozed into the mass of underling paint and both the detail and the spontaneity of the initial strokes were dispersed.

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I feel this year has been a journey in terms of my drawing from life.  In particular, when I was on the Seabird Painting Course in June, I felt clumsy.  I carried too much kit but had no consistency or comfort in its use.  Now I have pared down my field equipment, using a limited palette of tube watercolours and relying mainly on squirrel mops that deliver large strokes that respond to the touch and come to a fine line.  I keep to rough paper, often using better quality surfaces like Arches as here.  I carry a small tin with a few sticks of charcoal, pencils and a black conte crayon and use these especially for fast notes and for my first sketches to loosen up.

Marsh Lane

I was cycling to the nature reserve where I observe and paint.  This time I stopped on the fifteenth century packhorse bridge and looked across at the newer arches carrying the railway across the River Blythe.  This quick sketch was done in charcoal.

This second sketch was, i think, done another day.  It is a view of the same bridge but from the other side.  I was in a hide in the reserve.  This was in pen and constitutes notes for a painting not yet executed.

I have just found another sketch in my folders.  View from the same hide I think but in the evening light.

Cami de Nou de l’Otre from Embaise de Cuber

OK – just more holiday sketches form Mallorca

I walked along side a reservoir high in the north western plateau / mountains in Mallorca.  Each 200m stretch along the path appeared to be a separate territory for an Eleanora Falcon.  These large tailed birds were hovering low over the landscape or perching on rocks, hunting dragonflies I think.  The flat valley floor is walled by high limestone faces on either side.  Looking up, I had a couple of glimpses of circling vultures.

In this sketch, I attempted to balance the tangle of undergrowth shaped by a fallen tree against the calligraphy scored onto the cliff by rainwater.

Later, I found myself looking down a steep rock tumble falling 900m  from where I sat to the town of Soller below and then the distant sea.

Opening onto the sea

A small sketch on Arches rough paper with a limited range of colours and the squirrel mop brush on a hot day in Mallorca.

Now I am preparing to submit some pieces for an exhibition for the first time.  And I am learning that there is more to display than sticking a bit of wood round a picture.  My experimental pieces like Drone III and White Birds have irregular edges and uneven surfaces from the action of the medium making them difficult to mount properly.  I will find out later this week what has been made of them.  I need to select three of the five pieces I am having framed.  Even writing about this feels a risk – there is a low probability of these pieces being accepted (even lower if I don’t get my act together and submit the form by Wednesday!).


Drone III: We Must Leave These People No Place To Hide

Intelligence led, quasi-judicial, remote, aerial, guided kill

We must leave these people no place to hide

Hooligans, ne’erdowells and terrorists

The government writ no longer runs

These people

No place

We must leave


The Holy Moment, plus goats

Painting begins in frustration, self-doubt and swearing.  I look at the marks on the paper and cannot believe that I have ever painted anything worthwhile.  I have to persist, make myself paint,  if necessary abandon that piece and start the picture  again.  Eventually there can come a moment when I stop thinking in words, forget by doubts, my eye, brain and hand become wired together.  Then I am completely in the present.  This is the Holy Moment as described by Purplewax

During one particular holy moment I painted goats on a karst rock face.

No one says achieving the Holy Moment results in good draughtsmanship.  My goats were mutating into reindeer or donkeys and required a little surgery with a sharp blade to bring back a little of their goaty nature.